Amphitheater plan creates a bit of a stir

Horseback riders trot past the stage area of the amphitheater proposed for Ramona Community Park. The stage area is the flat spot between two boulders that sits about 700 feet at the bottom of a slope in the park.  Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard
Horseback riders trot past the stage area of the amphitheater proposed for Ramona Community Park. The stage area is the flat spot between two boulders that sits about 700 feet at the bottom of a slope in the park. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

By Karen Brainard

One of three projects recommended for Park Land Dedication Ordinance (PLDO) funding has created a bit of a stir, with some people wondering what it is and others questioning whether it is shovel ready.

The amphitheater for Ramona Community Park is not a new project, said Art Thomsen, who  has worked as a volunteer for the park for over 40 years. Thomsen requested $27,500 of the $680,000 of PLDO funds to install fencing around  the 2-1/2 acres designated for the amphitheater and to sod and seed the flat stage area. The fencing, he said, is needed to keep off-roaders, whose circular tracks can be seen on the ground, from driving on the site.

Thomsen, as the project champion, presented his request to the Parks and Recreation Subcommittee of the Ramona Community Planning Group, which listed it as No. 1 on the eight-item priority list. The planning group at its Oct. 3 meeting recommended that PLDO funds be released for the project, based on information that it was near or is shovel  ready.

That is not the case, said the general manager of the  Ramona Municipal Water District, which owns Ramona Community Park. In a letter to Thomsen, RMWD General Manager David Barnum said all insurance and permitting requirements must be satisfied before the project moves forward.

According to Thomsen, the amphitheater, which is between the water district building and the baseball fields, was created by the Ramona Kiwanis Club, along with Ramonans John Sousa and Frank Kunkel, in the mid-1970s. As a park volunteer and grading contractor, Thomsen also was involved. The topography of the land lends itself to a natural amphitheater, so grading was minimal, he said. The top of the slope drops about 700 feet to a flat area between two boulders where a wood stage once sat, he said.

“So you sit up here and all the music is down there,” he noted, standing near the top of the slope.

The Kiwanis Club planted eucalyptus trees at the top, and electricity and irrigation lines were installed. The amphitheater was used for about three years for music and special events, said Thomsen, but  interest waned and over the decades the stage, which is no longer there, fell into disrepair.

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A view from the proposed stage area shows the slope where visitors would sit to hear music or other special events. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

The park volunteer pointed behind the stage area to a rocky hill that has Indian artifacts and noted it is not within the amphitheater area and would not be disturbed.

Thomsen said he is working on the amphitheater again because he wants to see it finished and used for community events.

“My dad always said, if you start it, you gotta finish it,” he said, adding that “in the future it’s going to be used for things necessary in the community.”

He and Barnum pointed to an agreement in 2009 with the Ramona water district approving the concept of the amphitheater. Barnum said then general manager Ralph McIntosh approved the concept for the amphitheater with the conditions that all insurance and permitting requirements be satisfied, which has not been done. McIntosh is Thomsen’s nephew. In addition, Barnum said, a completed design that the district has requested has never been submitted

“It is critical that these conditions be met prior to your project moving forward,” Barnum stated in the letter.

Although RMWD owns the land, it leases it to the Ramona Parks and Recreation Association (RPRA). The lease agreement requires that RPRA obtain all necessary permit approvals and determine that there is not an impact to the park’s major use permit. If there is a deviation from the permit that was not satisfied, it could impact the entire park, Barnum said.

“It literally could cost RPRA hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Barnum.

Barnum also said the amphitheater stage area is in a floodplain.

“There may be additional requirements. It’s in a low part of the park,” he said.

For the health and safety of visitors, there may also be additional insurance requirements, according to the general manager. He said the district must meet  federal, state and local regulations.

Barnum said the water district is all for people using the park but doesn’t want to risk a snafu.

“You’re using public property and public money that could negatively impact that park...if you don’t do it right,” he said.

Thomsen said he met with Ricardo Soto, contracted engineer for RMWD, on Monday to discuss the amphitheater.

Although the planning group recommended funds be released for the project, San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department reviews it and decides if all requirements are met before sending it to the county supervisors for a vote on releasing PLDO funds. The other two projects that were recommended for PLDO funds are Ramona Girls Softball LED scoreboards and a tennis court conversion to basketball court in Collier Park for the Boys and Girls Club.

   
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